In the movies, a chance gunshot makes for a certain kill. You’re familiar with the scene: two men in trench coats grapple for control of the pistol, it goes off, and their faces freeze in shock. For a moment, it’s unclear who bought the bullet. Then the B-list actor crumples to the floor. The star of the show, the intrepid private eye, kneels to receive a dying confession or a vital clue.
Truth is, you can drill many a random hole through the human body and the victim will pull through, or, leastways, linger a few hours before dying. To guarantee death requires several bullets—or a twitch-ending shot to the heart or head. During my years as a paramedic, I had witnessed plenty enough gunshot wounds, fatal and non-fatal. Most of the victims were strangers. Several were friends. But back then I dwelled on the sunny side of California and I had severed myself from that life.
Now I was living on the northern end of the state, Shasta and all that, holed up in the cabin of my PI friend, Russell Key, house-sitting while he vacationed in Cancun.
I came across a man bleeding on my friend’s living room carpet: Sierra Sanitation Services. That’s what it said on a patch stitched to the breast pocket of his blue jumpsuit, and he wasn’t offering up his name.
It was three a.m. The fire spluttered with its final bits of crackle. Mountain-cold air gushed in through the window the intruder had broken. I tugged the chain on the overhead lamp to provide illumination while I examined his injuries.